How to Deal with the First Day of Preschool when Your Child Is Upset
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A brief visit to the classroom before the big day reassures the child.

Watch any child separate from her parents on the first day of preschool and you'd think she was being thrown to a pack of aggressive zoo animals. Separation anxiety is perfectly normal in young children, but preparing a sensitive and appropriate exit plan ahead of time will benefit everyone involved.


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    Point out activities your child enjoys or recognizes when you first enter the preschool classroom. Even if she's clutching your arm like a leech, talking about the positive traits of the environment sets an encouraging tone. Knowing that the blocks she loves to play with at home are also in her new school offers consistency and reassurance.
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    Introduce your child to her teachers and the teachers to your child. Include your child in the exchange by asking the teacher to tell her what they're going to do that day in class, or if there are any other new students. Even if she clenches your shoulder and refuses to make eye contact, having this initial introduction helps establish the reasonably unthreatening nature of this adult. Avoid mentioning your child's anxiety by saying things like, "we're a little anxious today," or "this is her first time away from me." These phrases only validate your child's anxiety. If you have concerns about her transition, it's best to discuss them with the teacher privately before or after school.
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    Lay out a transitional itinerary and stick to it. Calmly tell your child your exit plan. For example, "We're going to read two stories from the classroom bookshelf, then we'll have hugs and kisses and then I'm going to leave for a little while, while you play with the other kids and I'll pick you up before dinner time." If she protests, calmly redirect her to the bookshelf, but don't abandon the plan. Reading stories or drawing a picture together are good transitional activities because they engage her with the classroom materials.
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    Give her a big hug, remind her you'll be back before it gets dark and connect her with a teacher and an activity. For example, bring her to a teacher when you're ready to depart and say, "Mrs. Jones is going to help you and the other kids make clay towers." It's unlikely that any activity will fully offset your departure, but at least it connects her to something besides standing alone and wailing.
  5. 5
    Walk out and don't look back, no matter how much she pleads, screams or sobs. And she will. This is no easy task for any parent. However, one of the worst well-meaning mistakes you can make when separating from your child is returning multiple times to console her after telling her that you're leaving. Not only is this confusing, but seeing you lose your cool or behave dramatically tells your child that there must be something wrong with preschool.


  • At the end of the day, for your own reassurance, try to sneak a glimpse of her playing before she realizes you're there to pick her up. Once she sees you've returned, expect a mini-meltdown, especially after a highly emotional experience like the first day.


  • Keep your words, actions and demeanor upbeat, confident and firm throughout the entire separation process. If you seem upset, even if it's because of her anxiety, she'll sense your uneasiness and start thinking there's a legitimate reason to worry. After all, how would you feel about trekking into some unknown land if the person arranging the trip was a nervous wreck?

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Categories: Education and Communications

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